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Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Missing Link; the Interdependency of Life

'Our lives are not our own.'
'We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.'
David Mitchell- 'Cloud Atlas'

'Does sacrifice necessarily imply pain?' In this day & age, the world that we live in, the most ready & immediate answer would likely be 'YES', but must it really?! If our answer was 'yes'; we should then ask ourselves, 'why?' Why, unless life is linear rather than circular, would it cause pain? Another way of saying this is that the plant dies so that the animal may live, the animal dies so that the human might live, then the human body, when it dies, returns to the ground, becoming food for plants, which in turn become food for the animals, etc., etc. In linear thinking  ( 'it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment' ( Hebrews 9:27 ), there is no cognizable link between life & death: death is viewed as a punishment, something to be avoided at almost any cost, instead of what it truly is, an inevitable, even necessary part of life!

This world is riddled with pain & suffering; there can be no denying this horrendous & horrifying fact! Again though, we should as ourselves, 'why?' Why do we feel such pain & suffer ( loss ) so much? Is it not because we have become so attached to what is impermanent & transitory? We fight to keep these biological bodies from perishing ( as long as we reasonably can ), in fact, we tax ( to the breaking point ) our resources to keep healthy, or to rebuild our health & stay healthy. This is not to say that there is anything necessarily wrong with any of these propositions, because in order to most beneficently utilize our time in this biology, we must stay healthy ourselves! As Jesus, the Great Master to the Hebrews, said, 'Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father' ( John 20:17 ). We, human as we are, have a tendency to cling (voraciously ) to what we perceive with the 'five senses', being programmed, by our environment, yet still through our own individual choices, to 'forget' that we are possessed of a greater sense yet!

That sense, which some have called 'consciousness', might also be termed 'spirituality'. It is the awareness, or consciousness, that we are all connected, not just with others, as human beings, but that in order to survive in this biology, we must realize our interdependency, our relationship, if you will, with all living things. As Christians, we are well acquainted with the concept of spirituality, but we also tend, as above, to think linearly, simply speaking, vertically, rather than horizontally. By this, I mean to say that though we usually ( again, as Christians ) view life horizontally, at least from a biblical purview, the tendency, among most Christians anyway, is to look at life from a vertical standpoint, in essence, that we must pursue a blessed relationship with our Heavenly Father in order that we might enjoy an eternity in 'Heaven' ( up there ). This is actually true, but more from a horizontal viewpoint!

In order to experience 'Heaven', we must enjoy a blessed relationship with our Heavenly Father; on that point I want to be abundantly clear! Notice, I did say 'experience' rather than 'go to' ( when we die ). Even biblically speaking, especially from the teaching of Jesus, Paul & the apostles, we should deduce that 'Heaven', rather than being somewhere we 'go' when we die, is our experience in blessed Relationship with the Creator & His Creation. In fact, when Jesus said 'indeed, the kingdom of God is [g]within you' ( Luke 17:21), He was, in essence, telling them ( us as well ) that 'Heaven', as the abode of 'God' was within us all. As Christians, especially, we can also point to the universal truth of what Jesus told His disciples, recorded in John 14:23; 'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him'. We've been over this ground before, but since the so-called 'God-head' ( Father, Son & Holy Spirit? ) has made His ( Their? ) Home with us, it should not be too much of a leap to ascertain  that 'Heaven' is in us!

The Kingdom of Heaven is not simply an experience of course; in order to experience something, it must of necessity be, well....a thing! It has been said that 'Heaven is the Presence of God'
( a wise man said that............no, not really, it was just me! ) & though that is true, it is in defining ( as if  IT can be defined! ) the Presence of God, even 'God' Himself, that we run into problems, even sometimes, brick walls. Whether defined collectively ( in a group ) or singularly ( individually ), most everybody has a slightly different perception as to what that Presence should look like. From a biblical point of view, it might look like anything from the Holy Spirit-filled Christian, all the way back to a Divine Intelligence who created everything to run like clockwork. Some would even say that 'God is in everything & everything is ( in ) God'. The perspective of this blogger is that the Creator is our Heavenly Father & that He has set Natural Law in place so that those who live by this Law are blessed, while those who do not do not enjoy its blessings!

This Natural Law then, is such that says, 'if this then that' ( like the biblical injunction of 'whatever a man sows, that he will also reap' - Galatians 6:7 ). The Law of Consequences is known to most, if not all, but too often, it would seem, this realization extends mainly to like beings, specifically, 'human beings'. More & more, with the Evolution of the Soul, people are realizing just how inter-connected, indeed interdependent humans are with & on ALL forms of Life, even the most microscopic, some probably, which have not even been enumerated as of yet. As more come to this startling realization, we will see the Peace of  God rule in a way that we had not witnessed before ( except maybe in fairy-tales & such  ); even wars will cease as people realize they're only killing themselves, both literally & figuratively. Even the way we eat will change, when we begin to realize the Circle of Life ( then we'll truly understand the meaning of 'you are what you eat' ); no more will we herd cattle into slaughterhouses, like we have for centuries; rather than raising food for the Almighty Dollar, we'll be more careful to respect the Cycle, according to the Creator's Natural Law!

As the world stands now, there is & has been, much pain & suffering! Through faith ( ? ), the pain of that suffering has been somewhat alleviated, but the suffering is still there. Some will say that 'suffering is a human condition'; indeed it is, has been for millennia, but must it be? Must we be so attached to what is only temporary that we feel actual physical pain when we are separated from it? I'm not saying that it's wrong or weak, somehow, to feel pain at say, the passing of a loved one ( I do not say 'loss', because we do not 'lose' them ), or when our body is at dis-ease. Such pain, regrettable & unfortunate as it is, is now almost a Fact of Life in this world, although it need not be. The Evolution of the Soul helps us to realize the true facts of life, that all is not as we perceive. In this sense then, it could well be said that 'Pain is in the Perception'!

The Pain of Sacrifice comes from the loss we feel when we give up something so that another may have it, or even something else. But that is not the Essence of Sacrifice; the Essence of Sacrifice is in sharing, whether it be our life or our ice cream cone. To give of yourself is what sacrifice is all about.  Sometimes, yes, as it has in times past, Sacrifice calls for one to lay down his or her life that another might live. This is humanly speaking, though; how often do we think about the plants, the animals, that have given their lives, usually without much complaint, not so much that we might live, but that we might enjoy 'the finer things in life'?!

Speaking of Pain, sad to say, much of the pain we experience, though at first it seems pleasurable, comes from those 'finer things in life'! There's nothing wrong with enjoying a good steak, now & then, don't get me wrong; I myself, enjoy a good filet mignon once in a while. But are we at all concerned with how the 'T-bone', the 'New York Strip' or the 'Filet Mignon' were raised, how the cattle that we so callously consume were treated before their lives were wrested from them? Awareness is on the rise, but I think it would fairly safe to say that the overwhelming majority of consumers do not care where their food (beef ) comes from.

Our lives are not our own! Whether one puts a Christian 'spin' on this phrase or understands it more from an Eastern perspective, the truth is that we are only beginning to understand the depth of it. It goes without saying that, as individual ( human ) beings, we live our lives individually, but once we begin to understand how connected our lives are ( to each other ), we can't help but to begin to live more carefully How we treat, not just the Muslim next door, but the homosexual couple across town that wants us to bake a cake for their wedding. We will think twice before ordering our favorite steak. (did the cow that gave up their life have a comfortable environment as he or she was being raised for slaughter? What did THEY eat?! ) Can we long survive in such an environment? History has shown that we can, but the question might well be asked; 'is mere survival really living?' I would say not!

Charles Haddon Shank

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Connections; Ripples in a Pond

                                         Q.

What is your only comfort

in life and death?

                                         A.
That I am not my own, 1
but belong with body and soul,
both in life and in death, 2
to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. 3
He has fully paid for all my sins
with his precious blood, 4
and has set me free
from all the power of the devil. 5
He also preserves me in such a way 6
that without the will of my heavenly Father
not a hair can fall from my head; 7
indeed, all things must work together
for my salvation. 8
Therefore, by his Holy Spirit
he also assures me
of eternal life 9
and makes me heartily willing and ready
from now on to live for him. 10


Lord's Day One-Heidelberg Catechism

"Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas   

It is definitely simpler & makes for a much easier, readier explanation just to believe, to have faith that an Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, no less, has so orchestrated our lives that we are destined either for greatness or smallness, to live extraordinarily or in mediocrity. We have a choice, of course, in between, as to how we live our lives. whether we live for God or the devil, with the hope of 'Heaven' or 'Hell' ( 'choose well' ) The notion that we are not confined to this physicality ( this body, this life ) is not, in our Western view especially, easy to digest. That our lives are not our own is clear from a Christian standpoint; as the saying goes, 'you were bought with a price', although the import of this statement is often anachronistically misunderstood. Our lives are not our own, not in an anachronistic sense, as many Christians believe, but in the sense that how we live our lives affects not only those around us, but ultimately every single human being in existence around the world, like ripples in a pond!

I was brought up, at least from my early teens, with documents such as 'The Heidelberg Catechism'. Before that, though, I was somewhat familiar with 'The Westminster Shorter Catechism', so you might say that, from day one, I was catechized, baptized, if you will, in the Christian faith.  I am not renouncing, by any means, the faith of our fathers, in exploring, even accepting such Eastern concepts as reincarnation & such. That everything is not so simple as going to either one of the afore-mentioned  'places' when you die has become clear to this blogger & though it has become clear to me that much of what I have been taught from my youth is subject to examination, it is clear as well that the Scriptures we are familiar with also hold much universal ( catholic? ) truth. This Truth is found, not in the Greek & Hebrew Scriptures alone, but Scriptures from around the world, maybe most particularly in the Far East.

The Scriptures of, say the Far East, for example, seem as foreign to us as the Hebrew & Greek Scriptures should! As Christians, though, we have adapted this example of Ancient Near Eastern literature to our Western understanding, so that now, we have a Bible upon which we base our faith, our hope, but which is also, to a great extent, misunderstood & even, to a lesser extent, maybe, misinterpreted. The doctrines we have extrapolated from these Scriptures, though not necessarily wrong, must be examined in the light of the context from which they were drawn. For example, the doctrines of 'Heaven' & 'Hell', examined in the light of the world from which they were drawn,
are based, not upon a literal, or Western understanding, but a metaphorical, or Eastern understanding. Thus, both concepts are not places, or quantitative, but rather qualitative, metaphorical of existence on this plane, although it is arguable that 'Heaven' at least, as the abode of God, exists as such, outside this plane of existence.

The Truth of existence beyond this mortal plane is one that can be gleaned, not only from the Scriptures of the Far East, but even from our own. That 'God dwells in the heavens' is clear from the Scriptures we are most familiar with, though again, we must understand this phrase in the context in which it was written, The story of the mountain surrounded by heavenly hosts found in the book of II Kings, chapter 6, verses 16-18 may be the clearest example we have in our Scriptures of this other realm, or plane, which exists outside yet inside our own.

The Ancient Wisdom of the Far East is not relegated to the Far East alone; it is also found in the Scriptures of the Near East, even what we read today as the Greek & Hebrew Scriptures, our Bible, which, though Western as it is, still holds much of that Ancient Wisdom, that Ancient Truth. From the pages of the Bible, particularly in the Teaching of Jesus, we can see that He preached a gospel of unity, not division. The oneness of humanity is what brings to bear the Kingdom of Heaven.  Through our differences, not in spite of them, He taught, we find unity, one supplying this necessity, the other supplying that.

The Kingdom of Heaven, or of God, Jesus taught, is within us. It is when we realize our oneness, even though our individuality cannot be denied, that our eyes are opened to its truth, its existence. When it becomes clear to us, it manifests through our actions & soon becomes evident to all those around us, though they may not recognize it as anything but 'Inner Peace'. As our 'Inner Peace' manifests in our lives, we affect our surrounding world & we begin to see more & more evidence of the Kingdom of Heaven, not only as another plane of existence, but this 'mortal' plane.

Heaven surrounds us! Maybe a better way to put it is that 'Heaven envelops us'. Through our choices though, we decide whether or not, or to what extent we will manifest in our lives & thus to the world. Whether we pray to our Heavenly Father for Strength or meditate on the Strength ( Spirit ) Within, we choose to make the necessary changes, though it may take several lifetimes, to manifest the Light that we are.

The Manifestation of that Light, then, through the connections that we realize, will undoubtedly bring to bear the Kingdom of Heaven that we all bear! I say 'the connections that we realize', because, though the connections are ever-present, we have become so numb  to this glorious fact that many have forgotten or just downright denied it. We must remember these connections if we are ever to see the Kingdom of Heaven truly manifest, or brought to bear on this earth, in this world & the next!

As I alluded to earlier, we as Christians, particularly here in the West, tend to look outside ourselves for the source of our salvation and our condemnation when really, the answer to both lies within! It is according to the choices we make, the connection we realize, that the Kingdom of Heaven manifests, if at all, in our lives, much less in the surrounding world. As we persevere, both in this life & in the next, let us realize the connection that is there, pursuing unity with all, not just in spite of, but through our individual differences; in this way & this way alone, the Kingdom of Heaven will be made manifest, not just as a Kingdom ( of God ) in the midst of another kingdom ( of man ), but as that which it is in Truth!

Charles Haddon Shank

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

The Organic Body of the Christ


Who doesn't like structure ( of some kind )? Even the most ( seemingly ) disorganized person usually has a method to their madness! We may not appreciate their methodology, but, even if they're the only one that can make any sense out of it,  most, if not everyone strives for some kind of structure in their lives. Too often, sin lays wait at our door when those who perceive that their lives are ordered correctly try to show those that they perceive don't have their lives ordered correctly how to correctly structure ( organize ) their lives. Then, when the one taught fails to structure their own life as the teacher sees fit, problems begin to surface, usually because, among other reasons, every person is different & individual situations vary, often greatly. This is not to say that the teacher has nothing to say to another, for often, a different perspective can greatly improve any given situation, but when any teacher says that his or her students must all organize their lives to exactly mirror his or her own, one must exercise great care!



Jesus did say that, 'If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.' ( John 8:31 ) Of course, we must understand the immediate context of His words here & though they bear some universal truth, we should understand that Jesus was speaking to Jews that had been adherents of the so-called Mosaic Law all their lives. To understand His Word & what it entailed is equally important; the Gospel that He & His disciples preached was that the Kingdom of Heaven was within, not without. Jesus' Word to those Jews in the first century was that rather than the word spoken by Moses, He was the Word of Life, the Living Word!



It is when we come to the Church, what the apostle Paul calls, 'the Body of Christ' ( II Corinthians 12:12 & 27, Ephesians 3:6, 4:12 & 5:23, Colossians 1:24 ( Hebrews 10:5 ) that we tend to run into what is, in the opinion of this blogger, the biggest problem! Although any theologian worth his or her salt can find at least one proof-text ( probably more ) to support 'the theory of the local church', I cannot find one that is irrefutable. No doubt, there are local iterations of the Church, but even so, the Church is not, nor was ever meant to be, an institution!

DenomiNATIONALISM is really just an extension of the old Judaistic trinity of Phariseeism, Sadduceeism & Essenism! It is, in essence, a natural ( not necessarily good ) part of the human condition: this one cannot get along with that one because the other believes erroneously concerning a certain ( man-made or otherwise ) doctrine which he or she believes him or herself to hold to correctly.  Don't get me wrong, beliefs are important, but when they threaten to divide the Body of Christ, they must be closely examined & if necessary, thrown out!



There are not, as has been  supposed for centuries, two Churches ( one spelled with a capital 'C' & one with a lowercase 'c'-sound familiar? ), one local ( some call it 'visible' ) & One universal ( 'Invisible' ) As individual congregations, local assemblies were termed 'churches', mostly for convenience' sake. For instance, in ancient times especially, but even in more modern times, travel was not so conducive as it is now, so it was usually not feasible to have just one assembly, particularly as people began to grow in numbers & spread out. This actually, in my understanding, is where the term 'pagan' originated. There is One Church ( Body of Christ ), but like its members ( I Corinthians 12:12 ), there are many different congregations. Though they may have differing, even erroneous doctrinal stances, they are a part of the One Church! ( We must note here though, that individual members of any given congregation may or may not be members of the Body of Christ, or the Church! )



What is it then, to abide in His Word? As stated above, Jesus was/is the Word of Life; so if we abide in Jesus, we are His disciples. To abide in Jesus, contrary to what seems to be the popular opinion, is not simply to trust in Jesus, to believe what He said, but to follow in His footsteps, obeying His Law of Love, doing what He did ( John 14:12 ). In essence, to be the Christ, the Messiah ( or 'a messiah', if that makes you feel better ); as Jesus was to the Jews, or Hebrews, so are we to our 'world'!



To truly understand this blessed reality ( not everyone does ), it is helpful to have those with the gift of revelation ( not everyone does ), it is helpful to have differing gifts, leadership where leadership is necessary & love always. Structure ( organization ) is a good thing; everything should be done in order, not necessarily chronologically speaking, though that may be advantageous, but with order, not haphazardly, but with purpose. With this purpose in our hearts then, whether we gather in a specific building at a specific time, on a specific day of the week, let us not only do what Jesus did, but also strive not to do what Jesus didn't do, which was to organize the Body into separate ( individual ) denomiNATIONS, even separate 'churches'. Let us purpose to bring to Light the Kingdom of God, not hiding it under all the trappings of business.



Charles Haddon Shank